Law Limiting Teacher-Student Online Contact Draws Ire

As the school year resumes next week, Missouri teachers will have to think twice about making private contact with students on Internet sites such as Facebook.

The state's school districts are under orders to draft policies to comply with a new law restricting such communications in an effort to prevent inappropriate relationships between teachers and students.

But the law is drawing criticism from some educators who say it goes too far.

"It kind of assumes all teachers are guilty, and that is not the message we need," said Christopher Wright, a third-grade teacher in Rolla, Mo. and president of the local chapter of the Missouri State Teachers Association.

Representatives of the teachers group and the Missouri School Boards Association said they knew of no other state with a law mirroring the one in Missouri.

The teachers association plans to ask Missouri lawmakers in January to modify the law, which takes effect on Aug. 28 and will be enforced starting Jan. 1, 2012. School districts have until then to draft policies reflecting the law.

The American Civil Liberties Union is exploring a likely legal challenge to the law as an unconstitutional breach of free speech, said Doug Bonney, legal director for the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri.

"We have tons of calls coming into our office on this issue," Bonney said. "The vast majority of teachers are using social media very appropriately and effectively in our state."

High school students in particular live in a virtual world and to cut contact in that sphere could be unwise, said Brent Ghan, spokesman of the Missouri School Boards Association.

"That is how you communicate with them," Ghan said.

Missouri State Sen. Jane Cunningham said the law is only a small piece of a larger bill the legislature passed unanimously last spring in response to cases in which teachers developed sexual relationships with students, sometimes leading to abuse.

"I've been working on this bill or four years, and all of a sudden the whole world is interested in it," said Cunningham, a St. Louis Republican.

"It's gotten a lot of attention because of misinformation," she added.

Teachers can still befriend students on Facebook or be in other Internet contact as long as the sites are open to administrators, parents or others, he said.

Allowing strictly private contact between teachers and students has proven to lead to some secret, improper relationships, she said.

The new law restricts texting, e-mails and website contacts.

Several school districts in Missouri already have policies preventing private student-teacher friendships on Facebook and similar sites, but this law can be construed to ban personal contacts on strictly academic sites as well, Wright said.

For instance, Wright said students in his class are allowed to ask him questions about course work privately on an Internet study site. This can be helpful to shy students, but the new state law would apparently outlaw that, Wright said.

"It kind of criminalizes (such) behavior," Wright said.

Cunningham said teacher organizations supported the broader bill when it passed and did not raise concerns about the teacher-student Internet contact provision until recently.

A major thrust of the bill was to keep teachers from going back into teaching if they have been dismissed for sexual impropriety with students.

Under the new law, a district must tell the next potential school employer why a teacher was let go or accept liability, Cunningham said.

Cunningham said she does not favor revising the law except to allow teachers to have Internet contact with their own children who are students.

"We are always open to revising language, but since some districts have already passed laws like this, it must be working in areas of the state," Cunningham said.


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  • by Ryan on Aug 14, 2011 at 08:36 PM
    I don't think there should be a law, just another way for government to contol things. HOWEVER, teachers and students don't need to be "friends" on Facebook or any other social website. If it is a class page, maybe, but personal page, most definitely not. Too many issues can come up. Students don't need to see what a teacher does in her personal life. If a student needs to see a teacher about something, there is a place called SCHOOL for that. same goes for texting. How the heck do teachers and students get each others numbers? How many incidents have there been with teacher/student sexcapades because they are texting? Parents need to be responsible for their kids, not the governement, then again, some parents can't even take care of themselves.
  • by Eric Location: Chocowinity on Aug 14, 2011 at 07:53 PM
    I'd have to read the bill before I can really pass judgment on it, but Facebook in its current form can be a great tool for educators and students. Google gets a lot of praise for its 'Circles' feature, but the fact is, Facebook already has it and Facebook's actually works better. The teacher can put all his students in a 'List' (the FB term) and his default post privacy setting would exclude the list 'Students'. His students would see none of his private life's posts. (Students can do the same thing, keep discussions of romance and partying away from the teachers.) By creating lists of who you share with, and/or Groups (of people who do not necessarily have to be 'Friends' on FB), groups of teachers and students can study together. It does not have to be private; parents can be added to the group as well. Of course Facebook shouldn't replace anything, but it can add to it.
  • by Fully Agree Location: On the coast on Aug 14, 2011 at 07:13 AM
    Somewhere back a while, child rearing "professionals" came up with this brain storm, (Parents should treat their child-ren; as friends). I have watched kids in 7-12 grade call the parent by first names. WHOA! Now we have kids with NO idea of what it is to be "disciplined". The time out crud ain't gettin it. Growing up our teachers never associated with us. Being told to stay after a class bell meant; UT OH! Teachers did converse with us and our parent(s) at "parent's night". But we have also seen the family unit fall to pieces over the last 30 years. SADLY.. THE state needs to keep school for education and home for parenting. HA! Anyone know the most recent stat on "dead beat dads"? 100% in agreement. If caught the child and TEACHER better be held accountable!! Peace out
  • by Gumby on Aug 14, 2011 at 06:45 AM
    Whats wrong with this, the tsa gets away with alot more. We need less government
  • by Old teacher Location: Pitt on Aug 14, 2011 at 06:29 AM
    I never have contact with students that are presently in my class--I think it just could cause so many problems.. However, as the they get older I do agree to accept them as friends on Facebook.. I now get to see what my past students are doing. Many are very successful with beautiful families! It is a joy to see this.
    • reply
      by Dave on Aug 14, 2011 at 02:04 PM in reply to Old teacher
      I agree! I don't friend anyone outside of class BUT at the same time do not want the government making new rules to cover what a few make into an "innappropriate situation" - less government control!!
  • by Anonymous on Aug 14, 2011 at 05:23 AM
    As a teacher- I have no problem with this law. Viewing yourself as a "friend" of the student has led many teachers into problems.If they need to say something for a band or other group, than set-up a public group page for that purpose. It is that simple. Personally- I don't want my students in my private life.
  • by MICHELLE Location: ENC on Aug 14, 2011 at 04:54 AM
    I can see the good and the bad about this new policy. Some things about what a teacher does in their own time should be kept private, but on the other hand, some of these kids can talk to their teachers about things that they cannot talk to their parents about. If my child didn't feel like they could talk to me about something, I would rather for them to talk to a responsible teacher about topics such as birth control, etc. than end up pregnant. Kids have so many decisions to make these days, that they need all of the resources to guide them that they can. If this means that they befriend their teachers on Facebook and Twitter, then so be it. We all have to work together to keep our children on the right path and that doesn't mean letting the streets raise them.
  • by Ashley on Aug 14, 2011 at 04:46 AM
    You know, I don't think the government should be able to tell teachers that they cannot talk to their students online. However, WHY do they feel the need to make this law? Clearly, something must have happened. I don't have Facebook, but if I did, the last people I would want to talk to on it would be my students. I see them enough during the school year!
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